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Jihadists claim Sinai rocket fire on Israel's Eilat resort

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

At least two Grad rockets fired from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula exploded in the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat on Wednesday, causing no casualties, in an attack claimed by a Salafi jihadist group.

It was the first rocket attack on the southern resort city in eight months, with the Israeli army saying they were fired from the Egyptian Sinai, although there was no immediate confirmation from Cairo where a senior military official said troops were "investigating" the incident.

As news of the rocket fire emerged, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- who is in London for the funeral of Britain's Margaret Thatcher -- held a telephone consultation with the security establishment on "how to react," his office said.

Several hours later, a Salafi group called the Mujahedeen Shura Council posted a statement online saying its militants had "managed to target occupied Eilat with two Grad rockets" without saying where they were fired from.

The attack took place as Palestinians were marking Prisoners' Day in solidarity with the thousands of inmates held by Israel, with the group saying the rockets were a "response to the continued suffering of the downtrodden prisoners in Israeli jails".

The rockets struck shortly after 9:00 am (0600 GMT), both landing inside the city but without causing injuries, Israeli police said.

"We've found two explosion sites in the city, we've also closed off the airport as a precaution," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, later saying that Eilat's tiny international airport had been reopened.

One rocket hit a construction site in the Shahamon neighbourhood, while the second struck an open area close to the Jordan border, just east of the main hotel strip, local residents said.

At the start of April, fears of an imminent rocket attack from Sinai prompted the military to move a battery of Israel's vaunted Iron Dome anti-missile system to the Eilat area, a defence official confirmed on Wednesday.

"There were warnings of possible firings, and they decided to shift the system to there," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But an Israeli security source said the system did not engage to intercept the rockets.

"Due to operational circumstances, the battery located in the area did not intercept the incoming rockets," the source said, without elaborating.

Israeli media reports also said two rockets had landed in the nearby Jordanian resort of Aqaba, in reports denied by Amman.

"All military and security services in Aqaba have confirmed that nothing happened in Aqaba. It was only on the other side," Amer Sartawi, spokesman for Jordan's Public Security Department, told AFP.

At least two Aqaba residents contacted by AFP said they were unaware of any rockets landing in the city.

Eilat lies on the northernmost point of the Gulf of Aqaba, a narrow stretch of water bordered on one side by the Sinai and the other by Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Last April, a rocket fired from Sinai hit Eilat but caused no casualties, with police finding another unexploded rocket near the city days later.

In August, another two rockets rocked Eilat, again injuring no-one.

That attack was claimed by another Salafist group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis which said it had fired two Grad rockets at the city.

Since the collapse of the regime of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, Israel's border with Sinai has seen multiple security incidents, with militants using the lawless peninsula to stage attacks on the Jewish state.

The most serious incident was in August 2011, when gunmen infiltrated southern Israel and staged a series of ambushes that killed eight Israelis.

Over the past few years, there has been intermittent rocket fire on Eilat from Sinai.

So far, no-one has been injured but in August 2010, one landed in Aqaba, killing a taxi driver.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130417/jihadists-claim-sinai-rocket-fire-israels-eilat-resort